Losing Beauty

In Business of Writing, Craft, Publishing on May 4, 2010 at 3:38 pm

This experiment of opening my own words up to an audience, in which many readers demanded a paring back and carving down,  made me think about, well, my audience. How does a writer balance the advice of agents and published writers: “Write your best story, the one you have to tell,” with a hungry reader’s desire for a good story with a quick plot? Is it true that in a day when just about anything can be downloaded to a phone or an e-reader in seconds, we writers will have to carve out even more than usual? Will literature tumble down that steep slope of quality in favor of something fresh, hot, and fast (anyone who doesn’t hear Michael Scott saying “that’s what she said”…I pity you)?

I certainly don’t believe that books will disappear, though I do agree that publishing will continue its digital evolution, some of which will be for the better.  But I can’t help but fear that as books try to compete with TV and the internet (wait, aren’t those two the same thing yet?), some inherent essence of quality, the ecstasy of lingering over a phrase for its sheer gorgeousness, might get lost.


  1. I think about this too, Jordan. Fresh, hot and fast is great if you’re into that sort of thing, but there are plenty of people who like it slow and luxurious. I think the trouble comes when you’re expecting the former and get the latter or vice versa.

    I say stay true to your voice even if, for the moment, that voice is having a hard time finding it’s opening lines.

  2. Even in the year 3000, there will be readers who will insist on reading Mrs. Dalloway. And then there will be those who will continue to avoid it like the plague.

    Thankfully, the world is wide, large and vast in taste.

    Write your best story and readers will come. That doesn’t mean close your eyes to today’s trends. Take in all that information in, let it coalesce, and then decide with your heart and an open mind.

    This reminds me of the times when I’ve tried to explain to my mother certain incidents that have happened to me. She tends to be rather impatient and is constantly telling me, Dwayne, get to the point! Come on! Hurry it up! Let’s go. Quit editorializing and just tell me what happened! You get the point.

    Well… one day, I told her: “Excuse me. Don’t tell me how to tell my story.” The point is she really didn’t care what I had to say she just wanted know what happened, barely.

    So, maybe she wasn’t my intended audience. I bring up this situation to say there will be people that find fault with the way you talk, walk, laugh and cry. So you can imagine how impossible it will be to have them fall in love with all 100,000 words of your novel. But that’s okay.

    For example, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, was No. 1 on the New York Times Bestsellers List for more than 52 weeks. I hated, I mean absolutely hated the way she started that story. First of all I hate first person stories, secondly, she told it in present tense, huge strike in my book, and then there were THREE different narrators. Are you kidding me? And to make matters worse, the author wrote in dialect for one of the characters, like: “lor, I no dat be wantin’ some cleanin’ na.”
    But guess what? I devoured the book. I even recommended it to a woman I was speaking with in the bookstore. I loaned my version out, and don’t believe I’ll ever see it again.

    So you see? It’s YOUR story, and you can tell it YOUR way. And then I’ll buy your book and get upset that the person I’ve loaned it to has loaned it to somebody else, and that somebody else did the same thing, all because you did it your way.

  3. Hi Dwayne, wow. While I think you may be optimistic about readers of Mrs. dalloway (I hope you’re right), I love that that book sucked you in when it went against your usual tastes. What made you love it even though it was in the 1st person, with three narrators, and in dialect?


  4. So sorry I’m sooo late in responding to your question, Jordan.

    What made me love the novel The Help, despite it going against my then literary tastes (which, by the way, have changed, thanks to your classes), was that the novel had a cinematic flare. I could see everything happening right before my eyes.

    Oh, you’re also going to love this Jordan….for about 10 chapters, I used index cards to track the view-point-character’s emotional state. I KID YOU NOT, each view-point character FINISHED the scene differently than when they STARTED. If the view point character started the scene OPTIMISTICALLY she ended the scene in DISPARE.

    It was a roller coaster of a read, exhilarating.

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